Author: Eeevee (with invaluable help from Fyyrrose!)
Rating: PG-13 (mostly for Sano's mouth)
Summary: Drifter Kenshin never in his short life actually experienced the joys of Christmas, however, the townfolk of Insanity are more than willing to show him.
Disclaimer: The cast is thanking God, Kami-sama, Buddha, and all other dieteies that they are not owned by me, they are in fact owned by their creator and his affliates. Lobo, however, is my evil tempered wolf character ^.~
I smacked my hands together wishing it wasn't so bitterly cold. What ever had I done to deserve this? Snow up to my waist and biting winds. Miss Kaoru assured me that it was a rather mild winter so far. Mild? To me mild is a light shower of semi-warm rain. Ah, to be in the South again. Then again, with all the reconstruction going on I imagine it is a mess. I bet Master misses our old home in North Carolina at times like this. Then again, his ego could be used as a blanket to keep him warm if it came down to it.
"Hey Kenshin, you look a bit blue." Sanosuke scratched his spiky head and I stared with wide eyes. The man was wearing practically nothing! No like that you perverts. I mean, it's colder than Father Aoshi's eyes and he was waltzing around in his normal attire!
Have I mentioned yet that I hate snow? Most especially the cold, fluffy powder that's oh, say, waist high. It gets in between your clothing and soaks your skin. I mean, I can't even feel parts of my body. Yes, those parts. Imagine frostbite.
"This unworthy one is a bit cold." I admitted, my teeth chattering hard enough to rattle my skull.
Sanosuke shifted the axe to his other hand and pulled out a flask. I eyed it warily until he shoved it happily under my nose. Then I was cross-eyed and discombobulated. With a faint oro I toppled backward and disappeared into a particularly large drift.
Recovering myself slowly I asked shakily, "What is that?"
'This is Sanosuke. You know it's liquor.' I gave him a no duh look.
"Brandy. Will warm you right up!" Sanosuke assured me, taking a huge swig. Needless to say I found myself wondering where exactly those lips had been. Considering his behavior at the bar and all. I declined. He shrugged, "You're loss."
We trudge another mile in the evil white stuff before we reached a small grove of pine trees. Nut casings were scattered around the base of the largest one. It was about seven foot. I carefully avoided them. I didn't need another trip into the cold hell of feet deep snow. I could tell my hair needed to be washed when I got home and my ears were no longer attached to my head, at least not according to my body. I think my big ears came, not from genetics as those newfangled doctors claimed, but from the fact I was raised where it was nice and hot. Big ears give off more heat, but, unfortunately they also have the same effect when it's cold.
Fighting the urge to do the dance of pins and needles stabbing into my flesh because I was losing feeling, I asked Sano, "Do you already have a tree chosen? This unworthy one is quite cold." And wishing he wasn't pressed into babysitting, I added mentally.
"Yeah." Sanosuke said offhandedly and thumped the big tree heartily. A small chattering sound issued, but then, that could have been my teeth. A sharp blast of fridge air blew past and I tried to retreat deeper into my clothing.
'Wuss.' Battousai snarled, 'You can go to the brink of death unflinching, but you can't stand a bit of cold air?'
Sanosuke made quick work of the tree, hacking away with clean strokes. Unfortunately, he seemed to be angling it the wrong way. Either that or I was in the wrong spot. But it was too late to move. Damn waist deep snow!
"Ouch. Kenshin, are you alright?"
Fine, fine. Nothing I can't handle. Just a tree falling on my mid section, taking out three or four vital organs and pinning me to the ground. I still have a few more, right? Fine, just fine. Of course I was fine! Why wouldn't I be? A hundred pound man verse a fifty pound tree. I had the advantage!
'Testy, and you weigh one hundred and thirty five. Although after poisoning our body with stick and bones' cooking I bet that's dropped.'
I wanted to retort that Miss Kaoru's cooking was not poisonous, but my tongue didn't seem to be working at the moment.
Sanosuke lifted the tree off me and watched as I tried to stand up. Well, being numb was quite fun. Not only could I not feel the pain that must have been coursing up and down my body, but I couldn't stand.
"Here." Sanosuke took the tree in one hand and hefted over his broad left shoulder. He scooped me up and proceeded to do that same to me on his right. He should eat more he's bony!
It took me a full minute to realize what exactly this looked like. Not that I wasn't ungrateful or anything, I was! I was even getting some feeling back in my legs. It was just, well, my pride was prickled. Here I was, the great Bat-
'No you're not. I'm the Battousai. You're the sniveling wimp who hides when all the fun rolls around!'
Er, Kenshin Himura. Being dragged around by some guy who had hit on me, whom everyone knew had hit on me, and carried like a sack of potatoes. Three guesses as to what will be going through peoples' heads when we go back into town.
Luckily fate had other plans.
"Shit!" Sanosuke yelped in rage and dropped me. Once again, I visited the world of powdered oblivion before sputtering to the surface. Being short has some serious drawbacks! Sanosuke took up the trunk of the tree and assumed a battling pose. He held it slightly horizontal, not wavering under the heavy weight. Lobo stood snarling at him with hackles raised. Sano took an experiment swing one which almost took my head off might I add. He grinned fecklessly and took a challenging step forward. "All right you son of a bitch, payback time."
If the wolf could talk I swear he'd be saying, Bring it on pansy-boy. Instead he howled and launched himself at Sano. The young man wielded the heavy tree with ease smacking the beast across the ribs. He snarled and did a few, fun rolls in the snow.
'Kill kill kill! Never thought I'd be cheering for such a brain dead kid, but kill!' Battousai whooped.
The next round followed in much the same way. Lobo tried to get around back, but Sano expected that.
I ducked as flesh, muscle, and furious fangs sailed over me for another crash landing.
Now it could have continued like this for a long while, but a familiar, irritation person showed up. Now, if there was anyone that Battousai wanted whacked more than Lobo or Aoshi, it was Saitoh.
I stared as it all happened in slow motion. Sano, aiming at Lobo, not noticing the lean, dangerous man looking on with a pissed, pinched expression; Lobo, yellow eyes glittering maliciously standing just within the path of the tree; Sano swinging; Saitoh dodging; the snow trapping him. I must say, the resulting smack was extremely satisfying, but the pine needles stuck in his hair and mouth was even better. Oh, and did I mention up his nose? No, well, it was kind of a sick sight anyway.
Sano, seeing the repercussions of his actions hanging over his head like a dark, murderous cloud only had once reaction: laughter. Not my choice in defusing a potentially harmful situation.
I swear Saitoh's eyebrow twitched and he plucked a wayward needle out of his scalp. His cold, calculation eyes were just a touch warmer now. Okay, he was absolutely seething, livid, enraged, pissed, incensed, irate, infuriated, and fuming. Did I miss anything? I thought not.
Anyway, he was ticked. I could tell.
However, before he could take action Lobo struck from above. I suppose even an animal can learn from repetition. Sano could only swing the tree from side to side, unless he wanted to drag it up across the ground to ward off aerial attacks. Which Lobo didn't give him time to do. The wolf was on him within seconds. It was quite awful, the howls. From Sano, not Lobo.
I would have loved to be the one to break it up, honest, but Missus Tokio came just in time. She must have a sixth sense concerning maiming and death.
"Lobo, drop it. You don't know where that boy has been!" She ordered and the wolf jumped off neatly. He made his way to sit over next to her and glare. I noticed Saitoh, not to be outdone by a mere beast, had done the same. "Sano, were you antagonizing my wolf?"
"No Ma'am." Sano said giving her a sweet innocent grin, which was slightly distorted by all the angry scratch marks all over his face. "Kenshin and I were just getting a tree for the Missy."
She gave him a hard stare and he blinked with his façade of innocent. Damn he was good at that. I think I needed some lessons.
We parted ways easily enough. By then my whole body was numb. Did I mention I hate snow?
"Sanosuke!" Miss Kaoru howled, staring at the tree. Her blue eyes had taken on a hard cast. "What. Is. That?"
Sano shrugged the tree down and answered, "A tree. Not big enough for you or something?"
I looked at the tree. It was a little worse for wear after the impromptu use as a club. Hunks of dark gray fur clung to the needles and up near the top there was a hole that was suspiciously the size of a human skull. Mud and snow caked the branches while sap hugged the trunk and Sano's hands. It was a sorry sight.
"Miss Kaoru, where would you like us to set it up? This unworthy one would be glad…" I started, intending to cut any violence off. Instead she turned that vengeful look on me and said sharply, "I think you two have done enough. What were you doing? Fighting with a pack of wolves?"
"Only two." Sano assured her and she started to flame. Fearing for the man's life I shoved him out the door, reminding him of the lacerations and mentioned that shouldn't he go see Megumi? It actually worked.
"Would you like…"
"No." Miss Kaoru snapped, dragging the tree over the steps leading up to the bar's porch. When she wasn't looking I grasped the trunk and gave a shove. If she was surprised that it came up so easily she didn't mention it.
I stared at the scary display of seasonal cheer and Christmas spirit. It came in all shapes and forms, but there was a common theme: red and green. Everything from the little glass beads that represented holly to the large banners spanning the ceiling was saturated in those two colors. It gave me a killer migraine just looking at it. Unsurprisingly Yumi and Kamatari were in the middle of everything, squabbling over guess what? What color ribbons to put up on the barstools. As if there was much of a choice. Well, both were ugly anyway. Miss Misao was gleefully bouncing up and down on a ladder trying to nail something to the wall. I say trying because she was moving around so much that the hammer hit her fingers far more often than the nail. I could tell by the sounds the issued after each stroke. It was either an ear piercing squeal of delight or a muffled growl of pain.
"Misao, we've got the tree." Miss Kaoru called up. Miss Misao ditched her current project and took a flying leap to the ground. I expected a crash landing, but she landed on the hard wood floors nimbly enough. She rushed over to help drag it inside.
I spotted the tree stand in the color. Surprise, surprise, it was the most hideous shade of pea green I have ever seen.
"This unworthy one would like…" I started again, deciding they would have to listen. After all, I had already learned first hand how evil Christmas trees could be! They needed help wrangling the unruly sucker.
Miss Kaoru whirled on me and growled in a tone which chilled me, "Ken-shin, what part of no don't you understand. Honestly, you act like I'm a weak little girl who needs help at every turn!"
Retreating to a corner I watched anxiously as they dragged the pine over leaving scuff marks in the wood. They propped it against the wall and shoved. It worked surprisingly enough. For all of three seconds that is.
I watched silently as it tipped precariously time and time again. Sometimes they caught it before it made a dull thud on the floor, or a foot for that matter. Other times there would be a frustrated snarl from the duo. Eventually they managed to position the thick trunk in the rickety tree stand. Miss Kaoru, being taller, pushed her weight against the bushy shrub while Miss Misao lay on her stomach and twisted the little screws.
This worked well enough, until they decided to test the tree's balance. Another crash. Coupled with an interesting curse. Son of a porcupine and poison ivy. I'll have to remember that next time I decide to insult a tree.
"Do you…" I started to offer again. I can't help it, I'm a nice guy.
Miss Kaoru whirled on me flanked by Miss Misao. I got this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach it took a moment to realize it was the feeling I always received right before I was mortally injured. Backing up nervously with my hands raised in a peaceful gesture I was startled when I bumped into the wall. Nowhere to run.
"Out!" Miss Kaoru ordered pointing towards the door. I stared past her at the tree, which was propped hap hazardously. With dreadful certainty I had a flash of foresight. I saw the tree crashing down and snapping what little patience the two girls had left. Then out would come the objects of pain without pleasure. Of course, Miss Kaoru would get in the first shot, at my head. It was the sharp, pointy objects going down lower that I was worried about.
"This unworthy one forgot he has to do something for Saitoh!" I blurted out in terror. Now whatever in the world possessed me to say something stupid like that? Oh yes, infinite terror clutching my soul and squeezing the life out of it.
Having given my pathetic excuse I used my god-like speed for it's most important reason yet! Never have I brushed so closely with Death.
Once outside I wandered aimlessly recalling the conversation I had with Miss Kaoru a few days earlier. Naively, I asked why Christmas was such a big deal around here. After all, with Master it was just another day, which meant another day of chores and training. Well, there was a bit more alcohol too, but we'll not go into that. As an assassin for the Union I had never done much in the way of participating in holiday events. Not that there were that many. It was a war after all.
She explained all the town's quaint traditions, included the wretched tree. There was also church mass, which didn't sound too bad. In fact, I would love to see High and Holy give an inspiring speech about appreciating what we have and the sacrifices made on our behalf.
She also pointed out a silver ring. Well, not exactly. We had been grocery shopping and she stopped. I, wondering what was the matter backtracked to find her staring longingly at a small, silver ring set with gorgeous color shifting stones. They were only an eight of the size of a penny, but the two represented the eyes of two intertwined birds.
'They're doves and the stones are Alexandrite. That's my birthstone.' Miss Kaoru had explained.
Now I found myself staring in the window at the ring. Well, not quite the ring. More like the price tag. Items that nice cost money, and quite a bit of it. Something that I didn't have.
"What are you doing out here Mister Himura. I would have thought you would be helping with the tree." Missus Tokio said in a polite voice. A quick glance around assured me that Lobo wasn't lurking, and for once, neither was Saitoh. How she managed to give her two adamant protectors the slip I'll never know.
"This unworthy one's help was not required." I replied somewhat morosely.
'Pah, if I'm lucky Kaoru will be squashed and her neck broken. Then again, I can't decide which is worse, you mooning over her or you grieving.'
He deserved a scalding for that. Too bad I didn't have any boiling hot water handy. I would remember that slight however. Jinxing Miss Kaoru like that.
"I see." She said shrewdly, "So you decided to go Christmas shopping?"
"This unworthy one has no money to speak of. Merely window shopping Missus Tokio." I replied, wishing for once that I could have some worldly goods to pawn. I simply never had a use for them before.
She gave me that searching stare for a moment before grasping my hand and dragging me along. After a moment she dropped it, but kept walking. Curious and wary as a cat in the dog pound I followed. And followed. And followed. Eventually my arms became a little wearying, carrying Missus Tokio's purchases. Especially that large jug of fine brandy that claimed to have come all the way from England. I assume that was for Master. There were many other, small items. Which begs the question, why exactly I was carrying them all?
We returned to the small sled and horse she had waiting. The beast was one of those heavy-set creatures with the bobbed tail and cropped mane. White plumes rose from his nostrils. I was more concerned with the teeth to be honest, but the beast seemed even tempered enough, considering it's origin.
Gently I set my burden down and straightened up to go.
"Where are you going Mister Himura? As much as I appreciate you helping me out of the goodness of your heart, I assumed you would like some payment. As well as listening to my proposal." I stopped and looked at her questioningly. She had a nice smile on her face, it suited her far better than one of the other ones that usually graced it.
I wasn't sure how to respond to that so I didn't.
She sighed, "Just get in Himura. Hajime will kill me for this, but we could use an extra hand setting up for the sleigh ride."
I remembered Miss Kaoru mentioning that.
"This unworthy one will not have to handle any horses?" After my last encounter I just wanted to make sure.
"No, just hay bales. If you are up for that. They don't bite, I promise."
There was this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. On the one hand, if I went to the ranch I would most certainly come into contact with Saitoh and Lobo. One the other, this was a way to make good on my lie to Miss Kaoru and earn some money at the same time.
I should have known better, I really should have. Where was my evil half when I agreed to such a dastardly thing? Oh yeah, he was being evil. Well, crap.
First off, let me say those bales are heavy. Oh, and itchy. Very itchy. Especially when they get down in your clothing and chafe. I had stacked a good amount when Saitoh showed up. The look on his face was enough to scare Lobo. Then again, maybe the wolf had done something to annoy him… Nope, he was definitely looking at me. Which means I did something to piss him off.
Trying to ignore the man smoking up a storm to my left and the golden stare of the shaggy killer to my right, somehow he had flanked me when I wasn't looking, wasn't easy. I suppose that's why I made the mistake.
One mistake and my kidneys were getting an encore of the pummeling they received earlier, courtesy of Mister Pine.
Scrambling hastily and feeling like a downed deer with a wolf pack circling I tried to shove it off. Unfortunately Lobo felt now would be a good time to act. He sprung nimbly up and settled his full weight on the three or four bales crushing me. My face ground into the snow and my fingers scrabbled useless.
If I expected Saitoh to help I was sadly mistaken. He continued smoking, although he had slowed down considerably, and watched with sardonic amusement.
I'm not sure how long I was face down, but my eyelids were glued shut and my tongue, which I had foolishly sent to wet my chapped lips, was stuck to the ice below.
"Hajime, get those bales off Mister Himura, Lobo get off!" Missus Tokio growl, affronted I think because the two dared to team up in harassing her guess. Of course, I couldn't see her face as it was, but my ears were, despite being numb, in perfect working order.
The weights on me were abruptly lifted and someone was tugging at my clothing. I heard a ripping sound. Then a draft of cold air. If I had been in my right state of mind instead of with the fluffy bunnies and daffodils, I might have been embarrassed.
"Oh dear, Mister Himura is stuck to the ice. How long did you two pin him down? Hajime, get the hatchet. I'll get the hot water."
Wait. Hajime and hatchet? Why didn't I like the sound of that? Suddenly the bunnies grew razor fangs and the flowers started spraying poison. Apparently I wasn't welcome in Lala Land or wherever I ended up. Did that always happen when one's life was in danger, or just when they might be dismembered?
Needless to say, Saitoh did a flawless job of hacking me out, although he came a bit to close to my hair, and head for that matter, for comfort. After that, Missus Tokio had him drag I, The Human Popsicle, inside. She thawed me out. And after the warm water hit me and I started to defrost I was honestly wishing for bunnies, daffodils, and some morphine. Who knew it could hurt so much!
Once I had melted sufficiently and could feel my limbs again and assured myself that all my body parts were indeed still attached, I tackled a more mundane task. Hauling the hot cider barrels to be transported to town for the Christmas party that was taking place at the bar after Mass.
This time it was under Missus Tokio's watchful eye. She led out a pair of matched blood red bays. That stallion looked awfully familiar. As I put the last barrel up on the sleigh, careful not to disturb any of the bales Missus Tokio hitched the pair up. They stood quietly with their heads high and ears prick. I hope she didn't expect me to drive, because I didn't know how.
"Mister Himura, would you please sit here and hold the reins. I forgot something inside." Missus Tokio requested. I glanced around. No sign of the two wolves. Safe.
"All right Missus Tokio." I agreed, sitting gingerly on the hard, cold seat. Hold the twin leather leads I did my best not to jiggle them. The last thing I needed was to accidentally put them in drive.
Oh course, how was I to know that Lobo would come tearing around the corner howling his head off, or that Saitoh would be in chase. Actually, if my life, and the scenery, weren't flashing before my eyes I would have been hilarious!
Clinging for dear life to two pathetic strips of leather I did nothing to try to stop them. What could I do? That was over thousand pounds of frightened equinine! They would have ripped my arms from the sockets.
We careened towards town, the deep snow not slowing them in the slightest. I yelled for people to move, but some people just don't listen, even when there is an out of control sleigh with two strong, fast horses and one terrified passenger.
I winced at the crunch as Yahiko jumped out of the way. I hoped that was something unnecessary. I mean, all body parts are fine and dandy to have, but some you need more than others.
'Jingle bells, jingle bells, dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh! Jingle bells!' Battousai bellowed at the top of his lungs. I didn't point out to him that that wasn't the whole song, the right order, or that we had a pair of horses pulling the sleigh. He seemed to be having a grand time none the less.
The pair charged onward. I looked up with wide eyes. As usual, Master always seemed to show up in my finest hour. His big, steady form was planted right in the crazed horses path. I squinted. Great, he'd been drinking again. If he were a fish then alcohol must surely be water, because the man couldn't live without it.
Turning he smirked at the horses and stood there calmly. Amazingly the beasts dug all eight hooves in and braked. In a spray of snow and sweat they stood meekly before his Greatness.
"Stupid student, I leave you alone for two months and you are trying to take out the town. You are the most inconsiderate boy I have ever met."
"And what brings Master to town? I thought you hated humanity." I replied, irritated. My legs were shaking like mad, but I managed a straight face. The horses stood blowing and huffing, but they didn't seem like they would bolt again. If they did, I wasn't going to be an unwitting passenger again.
"I'm a God fearing man. I'm here for church of course."
Miss Kaoru walked up behind me with an expression that proclaimed don't mess with me or I'll bite your eyebrows off.
"He just wants free drinks. He's here for the same reason as Sanosuke." She growled, gripping my shaking arm possessively. I winced, but to be honest, she was the only thing holding me up.
Megumi rushed out and grabbed my other arm. Oh, so that why Miss Kaoru was being so clingy.
"Sir Ken, are you alright?" Megumi asked, checking me over for damaged.
I stuttered, "Y-yes, this unworthy one is fine."
Hiko glared down at me severely and snapped moodily, "Choose one or the other stupid student. You can't play the field like that."
Miss Kaoru gave him a death glare and Megumi gave him some cool appraisal.
"Yes Sir Ken, ditch that sweaty girl and come with me." She purred, "I have some special eggnog that I think you would just love!"
"I'm not sweaty or little!" Miss Kaoru howled.
"See? Two women always lead to trouble. They simply do not realize there is enough of one man to go around." Hiko stated wisely.
I hastily grabbed Miss Kaoru's arms. As intriguing as it would be to see Master with his eyebrows ripped off, I didn't want Miss Kaoru to get hurt. And chewing on his face couldn't possibly be good for her health.
I wondered if Megumi would follow us, but Sano just happened to appear at that moment complaining. Never was I so grateful for him to be a whining baby.
I looked at the clock inside the ranch and yelped. Church was in a half hour and caroling with in fifteen. Now, why would I care about something as stupid as singing carols? I have no idea, but for some reason it was burned into my brain. Go with the flow, right?
I really didn't need to wash up, the snow had done a fine job of that. There wasn't a speck of dirt on me. I was lucky to have my second layer of skin because I think the first was peeled off. Throwing on some nice clothing Miss Kaoru had bought me specifically for church I tried not to strangle myself with the tie.
'I wonder if Saitoh or Shinomori will be wearing ties.' Battousai commented pensively. I could just see him jumping up and strangling someone before the eyes of the congregation and God.
"Kenshin are you ready yet?"
"Just a moment Miss Kaoru." I said, giving the tie one last vicious jerk.
I walked out and was stupefied. Well, not literally.
Miss Kaoru was dressed in a royal blue dress that faded between navy and indigo. Gold flowers hemmed the edges and the sleeves drew to a graceful halt just before her wrists. The dip down the front wasn't prudish, but definitely hinting more than showing. Her shoes were dark leather and a thin gold bracelet and chain with a delicate cross adorned her. Her hair wasn't pulled back into its usual ponytail, but rather it was drawn into a more sedate, mature look.
I wiped my mouth to make sure I wasn't drooling all over myself like some sick pervert. She was blushing under my unintentional scrutiny and asked shyly, "Do you like it?"
'Does he ever. Hell, even I see some potential!'
"You look…" Gorgeous, beautiful, stunning, striking, sexy… Uh, better not say that last one out loud, "Pretty."
'Pretty?' Battousai howled in rage and I cringed. What was the use of such an extensive vocabulary if my mouth always snubbed me? 'Ravishing here. Show some taste for once. You don't just say pretty!'
"Oh." She said, downcast.
I bit back the urge to gather her up and hug and hold her. Well, despite my evil half's claims, I wouldn't do more than that. Really.
"You look lovely Miss Kaoru." I tried again. This elected a much better response. Well, from Miss Kaoru anyway. Battousai was peeved that I 'stole his word'.
We walked together in silence. I noticed she was getting a bit closer than she would normally even dare, but being the dense idiot that I am, didn't encourage it. Which is not to say I discouraged it either.
"What songs will be sung?" I asked lightly. Miss Kaoru looked up in surprise before soft smile covered her face, "Oh, we're not singing anything." The smile turned evil. "Sanosuke, Kamatari, and Yahiko are."
I should have brought earplugs.
A/N: Good lord, I just don't know when to quit! This is unedited because I didn't get it to the beta reader in time, however, I'm under a schedule! I leave for California on Sunday. Once there and surrounded I can't guarrentee my time on the comp. ;__; Oh, and because I have to get up at the crack of dawn means I may not be able to watch Kenshin -.-;; I don't want to miss it! I like Aoshi as Leader *evil grin*. It inspired me to reread that whole bit in the manga again! I forgot Kaoru flipped Megumi off ^___^ Then I went shopping yesterday and bought four mangas *smacks forehead* That's about $50 american. THEN I found two mangas I really wanted (in another store after I already bought two others) Under the Glass Moon and Demon Diary *scowls*. Anyway, off topic, originally this was a one shot that was suppose to fit in TDTI. Now it's a side story because it's too damn long! Will update next Tuesday and Friday. It's only three chapters.